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First off, a Bejeweled ‘Match 3’ role-playing game shouldn’t work. The most casual and the least casual ends of the gaming spectrum shouldn’t be brought together and tied in a strange knot like this. However, anyone who played the Nintendo DS version of Puzzle Quest will know that, against reason, it does work - and that this is a finely-balanced and incredibly compulsive re-invention of the basic Bejeweled recipe that should rightfully have slipped into derided cliche.
Basically, you and an opponent take turns on a board populated by four colours of mana, skulls, coins and stars. Swap two adjacent squares to match colours, and you’ll charge your mana reserves. Skulls directly damage your opponent. Coins add to your wealth, and stars give you an XP boost. Spells can be cast at different costs to each of your four elemental mana banks, and the huge range of spells can all be deployed to beneficial effect (and sometimes backfire) depending on the state of the board. On top of competitive play, you can capture enemies, learn their spells, train mounts and forge items from runes - each of which takes you on a variation of the main game’s theme.
Playing against another human is obviously more rewarding (internet and LAN play are both supported), mainly because there’s nothing more annoying than watching a computer perform a set of faultless, lightning-fast moves before making a patronizing random “mistake”. Having said that, the fortunes of battle rest in more areas than spotting possible rows of four - you have to prevent your enemy from building the mana he requires, gamble with the randomness of what’s dropping in next, and tactically deploy your ever-growing arsenal of special attacks. If you lose - and it’ll take an hour or two before that becomes really likely, thanks to a gentle learning curve - then it generally feels like your own fault. And that’s a genuine achievement for a game of this kind. With so many diverse distractions it’d be easy to forget to mention that the fundamental gameplay is so repetitive.
So, if you’re completely averse to the simplicity of the Match 3 format, then chances are you won’t like Puzzle Quest. But it’s not that straightforward - because of the deep sense of planning, strategy, story and general slickness, it’ll probably suck you in, anyway.
Feb 14, 2008